Glib and a contradiction in terms

My life might appear a predictable round of gig going, interspersed with trips to experience diverse other art forms. I suppose there is also my continuing need to work to fund these outings and my various, increasingly improbable range of, what I shall call, hobbies – and you might call grounds for future interventions. However, every so often I either surprise myself or am myself surprised by what my life delivers.

Only this past week, I was shown photographic evidence that a quote from this very blog will appear in a PhD thesis. I never expected this nonsense to appear in an academic work, well not outside of a psychiatric case study. I trust its inclusion will not adversely affect the granting of a doctorate or otherwise bring to a premature close a potentially glowing career in the tenured echelons of one of our most prestigious halls of learning.

The regular reader will have noticed that the topic of sport is rarely covered in these pages. I have, at times, in my life been able to maintain periods of interest in a few sports (usually serially, rather than in parallel): but, generally the tendency of everything to be reset annually (or every four years in some cases) has allowed my interest to wane after a couple of seasons. I seem to have a similar issue with most TV series and fear both may be a sign of the ever diminishing nature of my (a) attention span and (b) time on earth.

Despite this, yesterday I found myself on a bus heading into a previously unvisited eastern portion of the city (or I may have strayed into Eastleigh) to see the cricket (or at least a cricket). It is scarcely twenty-five years since I last went to a cricket match and people may ponder as to the cause of such an urgent return to the game. More astonishingly still, for the first time in my life I actually paid real money to attend! I can only blame peer pressure, curiosity and, perhaps, an eye to some fresh content. Whatever the cause, I found myself seated mid-wicket to see England and Pakistan battle it out in a One Day International at the aptly named Ageas Bowl (I never found the Ageas Bat nor Ageas Field).

The view from the cheap seats!

In an attempt to fit into a cricketing crowd – of some 25,000 people! – I decided to wear white trousers: and let me say, such a choice does add considerable excitement, jeopardy even, to any day (or it does if you wish them to remain white and not be sentenced to an immediate return to the laundry). I quickly learned that cricketers no longer wear white: England were in in shades of blue and Pakistan in a rather natty green, so my hopes of a last minute call-up were dashed (my complete lack of ability at any aspect of the game might also have counted against me, I suppose). Initially, my memory of the rules of cricket was decidedly rusty: though I found – as at music events – if you only applaud when a decent number of the rest of the audience are doing the same, you rarely come unstuck. However, over time, I discovered that I did retain a surprising amount of basic cricketing knowledge from the last millennium: the fielding restrictions rather grandly referred to as ‘power play’ had clearly been added more recently.

I am forced to admit that I rather enjoyed my time in the sun, watching other people work. There were a decent number of boundaries (one Jos Buttler seemed to connect his bat rather solidly with the ball and produced a rich harvest of sixes), a smattering of wickets and only a very brief stop for rain. The game was competitive and went to the wire – though I did have to leave before the end to make it to a later engagement. The seating was more comfy than it appeared, though I was a little disappointed by the selection of beer and food on offer: I was expecting something more upmarket somehow. Still, I did discover an unexpected ability to carry three pints in very flimsy plastic vessels through a crowd and down a flight of stairs without spillage: big hands have their uses!

I may return to a sporting arena, in a purely observational capacity, before another quarter of a century elapses: than again, I’ve made that sort of rash promise before…

However, the week’s most unexpected occurrence took place on Thursday evening. I’d been invited to NST City to a rather undefined event linked to the fact that they will shortly be staging The Audience by Peter Morgan. I had previously been lucky enough to go tothe first read-through: which, if I’m honest, suggested they didn’t have much more to do. The play was already very funny, well acted and left me weeping: not something I had ever expected to be caused by a fictional portrayal of Harold Wilson. I strongly suspect it is going to be very good on stage and will take the risk of recommending it before seeing it properly made flesh.

I think I was expecting to see the model box and perhaps a little talk about their plans for the staging and to be out in half-an-hour. I did indeed see the model box, but the evening was (mostly) about the process of directing the play, the extensive background research, decisions on design and staging and the like: this was all very interesting. Towards the end of the presentation, there was a need for two ‘volunteers’ to act out a scene and be directed, to further help the audience to understand the process. As someone well-known to the staff at NST (and in many other places), I had been primed to ‘volunteer’ if the rest of the audience were proving a little reticent (FGF rather than FHB). As a result, I found myself on the main stage of NST City playing the role of Margaret Thatcher to a small, but all too attentive, audience. My fellow ‘volunteer’ played the part of the Queen. I think this must rank as the strangest thing I have done in my 53+ years on this planet.

We were provided with the script and not expected to perform in costume, but after the first read-through were given some direction before a second run through. I would have to admit that I enjoyed myself immoderately, but then I believe it is always more fun to play the villain and I managed to channel considerable venom into my performance. As we returned to our seats, my co-star noted that our ‘ordeal’ had gone rather well: though observed that it helped that I was a professional. While, there are some am-dram genes in my ancestry (a polygenic trait, if ever there was one), the only acting I have ever done is in the creation and delivery of what I like to call my personality in a range of social settings: I could hardly claim that any of these many performances could be classed as professional. Still, my experience of public speaking probably did help (as did the print size of the script as I had not brought my reading glasses!).

In the bar after the performance, people were very kind about my stage debut – and did not (so far as I could tell) resort to any of the cunning, double-edged phrases used by actors to apparently compliment the terrible performance of a friend. I fear I have acquired a certain fame in Southampton for my portrayal of our first female PM: while I don’t think there is any video evidence out there, there are some photos….

This lady’s not for turning!

I have always assumed that the only role I could even slightly convincingly play on stage would be myself and it would be tricky to turn this into a career, despite the precedent set by Sean Connery. I am now wondering if I have greater range than previously imagined and am expecting my Equity card to arrive in the post any day now. I’m sure the offers from auteurs of film and stage can’t be far behind…

Meet me in St Louis

I should start be making clear that I have never been to St Louis, I have no current plans to visit and have little faith in my ability to find it on a map (though could probably pinpoint it to within 1000 miles or so – which would require an absolutely massive pin).

No, last night was my second Playdate – this time a read-through of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.  This is set in St Louis – well, within a single rather poky apartment in St Louis.  As the bar was full of mermaids (or I think that’s what they said), it was held in a meeting room at the University Club (which is much less exciting than I’ve made it sound – far fewer over-stuffed leather armchairs than I would want in a Club).  For a free gig, it is astoundingly good value – nearly 3.5 hours of entertainment with wine and softer drinks provided gratis.  This time we – the assembled throng – introduced ourselves and so I discovered that everyone else in the room was an actor, director or playwright.  As mere “audience” I felt somewhat of a fraud, though comfort myself with the fact that, in some way, I fund everyone else’s career.

Actually, I also felt somewhat of a fraud at the Nuffield the previous week when I attended 451 (their regular poetry night) and discovered that I was almost the only audience member not performing poetry.  Despite my limited qualifications and complete lack of preparation, one of my poems was read out during the evening.  In the interval, we all had to write a short poem on the subject “Manifesto” and mine was one of the top four (and so read aloud): oh yes, people – be very afraid! –  as I now I have reason to believe that I’m an actual poet!  Given that I have all the emotional development of a teenage boy, expect GofaDM to be taken over by my angst-ridden poesy in the near future.  However, this validation was not the evening’s highlight, even for your self-obsessed narrator – no that was the excellent set by Kate Fox, which would have made the whole evening worthwhile just for the phrase “binge thinking” which graced one of her poems.

But, let’s return to St Louis and such plot as I am willing to provide to this post.  As my first exposure to Mr Williams’ oeuvre I was rather impressed by The Glass Menagerie – though it is not a cheery tale – and surprised to find the title can be taken literally (it is not a metaphor).  Despite the strong competition from actual actors, I was able to play Tom (now) during the first half and had an absolute ball.  Those who follow me on Facebook (or is follow the wrong verb?  Those who poke me on Facebook?) will know that I was wondering whether to attempt the full southern accent – and those who know me in person, will further wonder if I did essay the accent whether anyone else would (a) know and (b) recognise it.  In the end, I didn’t go for the full “Gone with the Wind” but I did modify my normal speaking voice to add a bit of a drawl and move my speech rhythms and pronunciation a little closer to what I imagined would be authentic (and I was given a lot of background to the character by Sam, the director).  This did force the young lad playing Tom (then) – who in play terms was 6 years my junior, but in real life nearer 26 – to also hazard a somewhat American accent (which I thought was a result).  Given the actual nature of the play, I’m glad I rejected my other plan which was to attend wearing a sweat-stained wife-beater (more Streetcar than Menagerie, as it transpired).

I continue to think I make for a rather good actor at a first reading – for a start, I’m rather better at sight-reading than most people (based, I will admit, on a rather limited sample). In fact, my biggest worry about my own performance was that my German pronunciation of the word “Berchtesgaden” was far too accurate for an American youth in 1943.  However, I strongly suspect that by a second or third reading, real actors would improve their performance significantly whilst mine will remain largely unimproved (though I would fudge my German a little more).  Despite this, the lure of the stage is very strong!

After the read-through, we had a very interesting discussion about the play and its themes and characters.  The Nuffield will be staging The Glass Menagerie later this year, and I now find I have very strong views about various aspects of the play – particularly, the meaning of Jim (who, unusually, I am not worried about – a reference there for the Mrs Dale’s Diary fans, who have been cruelly neglected in recent years).

The genie is out of the bottle

The worms have – very much – left the can.  And, as we all know, entropy – or the arrow of time – prevents freed worms being returned to the same can.  Perhaps I should explain the title: see I can hear your plaintive, beseeching cries.

I have spent three of the last four nights at the Nuffield Theatre – though none in quite the usual way.  On Sunday night I went to see a Q&A with Tom Hiddleston who spoke about his career, theatre and film.  This was very interesting and drew an overwhelmingly female audience, some from as far away as Canada and the Far East.  I fear my own public speaking or Q&A sessions have not drawn such a broad audience (and have occasioned far less whooping) – and such audience as I can draw usually has their travel funded by their employers.

On Monday night, I went to see Experiment – a night of new writing laid on by the Nuffield Laboratory.  This contained two fragments which may one day develop into full plays, the beginnings of a spoken word piece and an almost indescribable (but fun) audience participation piece.  The night was enormously entertaining – far more than can usually be achieved for £4 – and I still find myself wondering what will happen (or had already happened) to the characters in the two play fragments and musing on the ideas from the spoken word piece.

Tonight I went on a Playdate – something I normally leave to my nephew.  On these occasions (for adults…  and me) a small group read a play and chat about it.  Our play tonight was Loveplay by Moira Buffini – first performed by the RSC on my 35th birthday.  This has a whole series of brief scenes (or vignettes), set in time periods from 79AD to 2001, each looking at an aspect of “love”.  During the evening I played: a Roman soldier, a Saxon rapist, a 14th century playwright, a Victorian adulterer and a virgin schoolboy (typecasting, I know) from the 1930s.  What a range!  This was an indecent amount of fun (and was free) and I loved acting: I wanted to play all the parts and found myself just waiting for my next line.   The play is somewhat comic, so I was also trying to milk my lines for laughs – where appropriate.  If given the chance, I would also have done the foley work and given life to the stage directions.

At the end, the organiser asked if I was an actor – and an actual actor remarked on my confidence at a first reading.  I am clearly wasted on PowerPoint presentations, the time has come for me to begin my stage career.  Well, I believe it is in my blood (I think my grandparents participated in am-dram) and now it has finally been released.  A star (and/or monster) is born!  You have been warned!  If you start running now, you may just avoid the consequences of tonight’s activities – but I wouldn’t bet on it!

Feeling my age

This is, of course, a very different proposition to acting my age.  I have largely avoided acting my age, and when I am called upon to portray an adult in a public setting then “acting” is very much the mot juste.  In this context, I am very much NOT a follower of Messrs Stanislavski and Strasberg – I go with the “just pretending” school.

One the whole, I do not feel my age – unless there has been a dreadful accounting error and I really am only 22 (or thereabouts).  Over the summer, a number of incidents illustrated the distance between my internal view of my age and actual chronology have been allowed to diverge over the years.  I have realised that when in the company of “proper” adults – generally, but not always, those of my age or greater – I feel rather like a child who has been allowed to stay up past his bedtime and as though I don’t really belong.    With those aged around 20 (±5), I feel as though I am among equals and act as though I am just one of the gang – which I presume they must find a little disconcerting (or just creepy), but probably endure as I’m quite good about buying the beer.  When availing myself of the cake at T H Roberts in Dolgellau, I felt far more at home with the very youthful staff then with the more stricken-in-years clientele – despite being much close in age to the latter.  I suspect there must be quite a backlog of updates to my self-image waiting to be installed in a cloud or buffer somewhere – and long may they remain there!

My pretence at continued youth is also being bolstered by my gymnastic exploits.  A little while ago I learned that one of the other clients of Brightside refers to me as “the gymnast” (as though this were my profession – which luckily, for my continued solvency, it is not) and today discovered that I am a major topic of conversation among their wider clientele (in my absence, fortunately).  It would appear that I am a marvel of the age (or at least, my age) – though to be honest, it is just practice and a bit of application on my part.  At the risk of frightening the horses (you will be seeing a lot of leg), here is a picture of me practising one of the progressions towards the elusive back lever.

Just hanging around

Just hanging around

The more perspicacious reader may have noted that my head seems very pink (née red).  In my defence, I would point out that I am upside-down and this is a hold – but I will admit that I do not recall seeing this same effect on real gymnasts.  Luckily, according to the Mortician’s Gazette, I see that some gymnastics is to be televised next week so I shall have an opportunity to check out the head-directed blood-flow of the participants.  I suppose it may be that hanging like a very distended bat is not a highly regarded activity in proper gymnastics…

So, why you may wonder should I be feeling my age?  Well, partly it comes down to hanging around with the young and recalling an incident from my adult past, only to discover it occurred before any of them were born.  This can really take the wind out of a chap’s sails.

However, the spark that ignited this post was going to see the film Pride a week or so back.  The film is excellent (if you haven’t seen it, you really should) and (mostly) set in 1984 – the year in which I took my A-levels and started university.  Yet, even to me it feels like a period piece and I was shocked to realise that I was basically an adult when it was set.  The vehicles, in particular, look to be from a bygone age.  It made my feel very old and to wonder if it is time for me to start buying Werther’s Originals, carpet slippers and a tartan rug.

NO!  I refuse to act my age!  I refuse to wear anything made of fleece!  I shall re-double my efforts to grow old disgracefully.  I feel in need of a new age-inappropriate hobby to take up (to add to the gymnastics).  What do people feel about seeing a man of 48½ on a skateboard?  (I promise to eschew the strangely sculpted facial hair and pony tail).  I’m also willing to entertain suggestions for other pursuits which would allow me to retain my juvenility – but, be warned, if I like the idea I may act upon it and you may later be exposed to photographic evidence thereof!